Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

It was known that the enemy had some gunboats at Richmond. These
might run down at night and inflict great damage upon us before
they could be sunk or captured by our navy. General Butler had,
in advance, loaded some vessels with stone ready to be sunk so as
to obstruct the channel in an emergency. On the 13th I sent
orders to have these sunk as high up the river as we could guard
them, and prevent their removal by the enemy.

As soon as Warren’s corps was over the Chickahominy it marched
out and joined the cavalry in holding the roads from Richmond
while the army passed. No attempt was made by the enemy to
impede our march, however, but Warren and Wilson reported the
enemy strongly fortified in their front. By the evening of the
13th Hancock’s corps was at Charles City Court House on the
James River. Burnside’s and Wright’s corps were on the
Chickahominy, and crossed during the night, Warren’s corps and
the cavalry still covering the army. The material for a pontoon
bridge was already at hand and the work of laying it was
commenced immediately, under the superintendence of
Brigadier-General Benham, commanding the engineer brigade. On
the evening of the 14th the crossing commenced, Hancock in
advance, using both the bridge and boats.

When the Wilderness campaign commenced the Army of the Potomac,
including Burnside’s –which was a separate command until the
24th of May when it was incorporated with the main
army–numbered about 116,000 men. During the progress of the
campaign about 40,000 reinforcements were received. At the
crossing of the James River June 14th-l5th the army numbered
about 115,000. Besides the ordinary losses incident to a
campaign of six weeks’ nearly constant fighting or skirmishing,
about one-half of the artillery was sent back to Washington, and
many men were discharged by reason of the expiration of their
term of service.* In estimating our strength every enlisted man
and every commissioned officer present is included, no matter
how employed; in bands, sick in field hospitals, hospital
attendants, company cooks and all. Operating in an enemy’s
country, and being supplied always from a distant base, large
detachments had at all times to be sent from the front, not only
to guard the base of supplies and the roads to it, but all the
roads leading to our flanks and rear. We were also operating in
a country unknown to us, and without competent guides or maps
showing the roads accurately.

The manner of estimating numbers in the two armies differs
materially. In the Confederate army often only bayonets are
taken into account, never, I believe, do they estimate more than
are handling the guns of the artillery and armed with muskets
(*36) or carbines. Generally the latter are far enough away to
be excluded from the count in any one field. Officers and
details of enlisted men are not included. In the Northern
armies the estimate is most liberal, taking in all connected
with the army and drawing pay.

Estimated in the same manner as ours, Lee had not less than
80,000 men at the start. His reinforcements were about equal to
ours during the campaign, deducting the discharged men and those
sent back. He was on the defensive, and in a country in which
every stream, every road, every obstacle to the movement of
troops and every natural defence was familiar to him and his
army. The citizens were all friendly to him and his cause, and
could and did furnish him with accurate reports of our every
move. Rear guards were not necessary for him, and having always
a railroad at his back, large wagon trains were not required. All
circumstances considered we did not have any advantage in

General Lee, who had led the Army of Northern Virginia in all
these contests, was a very highly estimated man in the
Confederate army and States, and filled also a very high place
in the estimation of the people and press of the Northern
States. His praise was sounded throughout the entire North
after every action he was engaged in: the number of his forces
was always lowered and that of the National forces
exaggerated. He was a large, austere man, and I judge difficult
of approach to his subordinates. To be extolled by the entire
press of the South after every engagement, and by a portion of
the press North with equal vehemence, was calculated to give him
the entire confidence of his troops and to make him feared by his
antagonists. It was not an uncommon thing for my staff-officers
to hear from Eastern officers, “Well, Grant has never met Bobby
Lee yet.” There were good and true officers who believe now
that the Army of Northern Virginia was superior to the Army of
the Potomac man to man. I do not believe so, except as the
advantages spoken of above made them so. Before the end I
believe the difference was the other way. The Army of Northern
Virginia became despondent and saw the end. It did not please
them. The National army saw the same thing, and were encouraged
by it.

The advance of the Army of the Potomac reached the James on the
14th of June. Preparations were at once commenced for laying
the pontoon bridges and crossing the river. As already stated,
I had previously ordered General Butler to have two vessels
loaded with stone and carried up the river to a point above that
occupied by our gunboats, where the channel was narrow, and sunk
there so as to obstruct the passage and prevent Confederate
gunboats from coming down the river. Butler had had these boats
filled and put in position, but had not had them sunk before my
arrival. I ordered this done, and also directed that he should
turn over all material and boats not then in use in the river to
be used in ferrying the troops across.

I then, on the 14th, took a steamer and ran up to Bermuda
Hundred to see General Butler for the purpose of directing a
movement against Petersburg, while our troops of the Army of the
Potomac were crossing.

I had sent General W. F. Smith back from Cold Harbor by the way
of White House, thence on steamers to City Point for the purpose
of giving General Butler more troops with which to accomplish
this result. General Butler was ordered to send Smith with his
troops reinforced, as far as that could be conveniently done,
from other parts of the Army of the James. He gave Smith about
six thousand reinforcements, including some twenty-five hundred
cavalry under Kautz, and about thirty-five hundred colored
infantry under Hinks.

The distance which Smith had to move to reach the enemy’s lines
was about six miles, and the Confederate advance line of works
was but two miles outside of Petersburg. Smith was to move
under cover of night, up close to the enemy’s works, and assault
as soon as he could after daylight. I believed then, and still
believe, that Petersburg could have been easily captured at that
time. It only had about 2,500 men in the defences besides some
irregular troops, consisting of citizens and employees in the
city who took up arms in case of emergency. Smith started as
proposed, but his advance encountered a rebel force intrenched
between City Point and their lines outside of Petersburg. This
position he carried, with some loss to the enemy; but there was
so much delay that it was daylight before his troops really got
off from there. While there I informed General Butler that
Hancock’s corps would cross the river and move to Petersburg to
support Smith in case the latter was successful, and that I
could reinforce there more rapidly than Lee could reinforce from
his position.

I returned down the river to where the troops of the Army of the
Potomac now were, communicated to General Meade, in writing, the
directions I had given to General Butler and directed him
(Meade) to cross Hancock’s corps over under cover of night, and
push them forward in the morning to Petersburg; halting them,
however, at a designated point until they could hear from
Smith. I also informed General Meade that I had ordered rations
from Bermuda Hundred for Hancock’s corps, and desired him to
issue them speedily, and to lose no more time than was
absolutely necessary. The rations did not reach him, however,
and Hancock, while he got all his corps over during the night,
remained until half-past ten in the hope of receiving them. He
then moved without them, and on the road received a note from
General W. F. Smith, asking him to come on. This seems to be
the first information that General Hancock had received of the
fact that he was to go to Petersburg, or that anything
particular was expected of him. Otherwise he would have been
there by four o’clock in the afternoon.

Smith arrived in front of the enemy’s lines early in the
forenoon of the 15th, and spent the day until after seven
o’clock in the evening in reconnoitering what appeared to be
empty works. The enemy’s line consisted of redans occupying
commanding positions, with rifle-pits connecting them. To the
east side of Petersburg, from the Appomattox back, there were
thirteen of these redans extending a distance of several miles,
probably three. If they had been properly manned they could
have held out against any force that could have attacked them,
at least until reinforcements could have got up from the north
of Richmond.

Smith assaulted with the colored troops, and with success. By
nine o’clock at night he was in possession of five of these
redans and, of course, of the connecting lines of rifle-pits.
All of them contained artillery, which fell into our hands.
Hancock came up and proposed to take any part assigned to him;
and Smith asked him to relieve his men who were in the trenches.

Next morning, the 16th, Hancock himself was in command, and
captured another redan. Meade came up in the afternoon and
succeeded Hancock, who had to be relieved, temporarily, from the
command of his corps on account of the breaking out afresh of the
wound he had received at Gettysburg. During the day Meade
assaulted and carried one more redan to his right and two to his
left. In all this we lost very heavily. The works were not
strongly manned, but they all had guns in them which fell into
our hands, together with the men who were handling them in the
effort to repel these assaults.

Up to this time Beauregard, who had commanded south of Richmond,
had received no reinforcements, except Hoke’s division from
Drury’s Bluff,(*37) which had arrived on the morning of the
16th; though he had urged the authorities very strongly to send
them, believing, as he did, that Petersburg would be a valuable
prize which we might seek.

During the 17th the fighting was very severe and the losses
heavy; and at night our troops occupied about the same position
they had occupied in the morning, except that they held a redan
which had been captured by Potter during the day. During the
night, however, Beauregard fell back to the line which had been
already selected, and commenced fortifying it. Our troops
advanced on the 18th to the line which he had abandoned, and
found that the Confederate loss had been very severe, many of
the enemy’s dead still remaining in the ditches and in front of

Colonel J. L. Chamberlain, of the 20th Maine, was wounded on the
18th. He was gallantly leading his brigade at the time, as he
had been in the habit of doing in all the engagements in which
he had previously been engaged. He had several times been
recommended for a brigadier-generalcy for gallant and
meritorious conduct. On this occasion, however, I promoted him
on the spot, and forwarded a copy of my order to the War
Department, asking that my act might be confirmed and
Chamberlain’s name sent to the Senate for confirmation without
any delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious
officer received partial justice at the hands of his government,
which he had served so faithfully and so well.

If General Hancock’s orders of the 15th had been communicated to
him, that officer, with his usual promptness, would undoubtedly
have been upon the ground around Petersburg as early as four
o’clock in the afternoon of the 15th. The days were long and it
would have given him considerable time before night. I do not
think there is any doubt that Petersburg itself could have been
carried without much loss; or, at least, if protected by inner
detached works, that a line could have been established very
much in rear of the one then occupied by the enemy. This would
have given us control of both the Weldon and South Side
railroads. This would also have saved an immense amount of hard
fighting which had to be done from the 15th to the 18th, and
would have given us greatly the advantage in the long siege
which ensued.

I now ordered the troops to be put under cover and allowed some
of the rest which they had so long needed. They remained quiet,
except that there was more or less firing every day, until the
22d, when General Meade ordered an advance towards the Weldon
Railroad. We were very anxious to get to that road, and even
round to the South Side Railroad if possible.

Meade moved Hancock’s corps, now commanded by Birney, to the
left, with a view to at least force the enemy to stay within the
limits of his own line. General Wright, with the 6th corps, was
ordered by a road farther south, to march directly for the
Weldon road. The enemy passed in between these two corps and
attacked vigorously, and with very serious results to the
National troops, who were then withdrawn from their advanced

The Army of the Potomac was given the investment of Petersburg,
while the Army of the James held Bermuda Hundred and all the
ground we possessed north of the James River. The 9th corps,
Burnside’s, was placed upon the right at Petersburg; the 5th,
Warren’s, next; the 2d, Birney’s, next; then the 6th, Wright’s,
broken off to the left and south. Thus began the siege of



On the 7th of June, while at Cold Harbor, I had as already
indicated sent Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry to destroy
as much as he could of the Virginia Central Railroad. General
Hunter had been operating up the Shenandoah Valley with some
success, having fought a battle near Staunton where he captured
a great many prisoners, besides killing and wounding a good many
men. After the battle he formed a junction at Staunton with
Averell and Crook, who had come up from the Kanawha, or Gauley
River. It was supposed, therefore, that General Hunter would be
about Charlottesville, Virginia, by the time Sheridan could get
there, doing on the way the damage that he was sent to do.

I gave Sheridan instructions to have Hunter, in case he should
meet him about Charlottesville, join and return with him to the
Army of the Potomac. Lee, hearing of Hunter’s success in the
valley, started Breckinridge out for its defence at once.
Learning later of Sheridan’s going with two divisions, he also
sent Hampton with two divisions of cavalry, his own and
Fitz-Hugh Lee’s.

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